A new era in City Making – spectacular large scale projects to improve citizens' quality of life

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12 October, Brussels. Today, 54% of the world’s population lives in urban areas, a proportion that is expected to increase to 66% by 2050, according to the United Nations. In Europe, cities provide up to 85% of the region’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Taking these two factors into account, the Section for Economic and Monetary Union and Economic and Social Cohesion (ECO Section) of the European Economic and Social Committee organised - within the European Week of Regions and Cities - a workshop on Cities as poles of up-to-date economic development, with three examples of "model to follow" cities: Lisbon, Bristol, and Lodz, where competitiveness, innovation and creativity co-exist on a large scale.

These cities are amongst the 13 cities and regions recognised in the European Commission’s newly published Blueprint for cities and regions as launch pads for digital transformation and restoring spectacular economic growth, and seen as great examples of how proper strategy, vision and ambition, building on innovative forces, can create poles of up-to-date economic development.

But why are these cities so special? According to the speakers, Paulo Carvalho, General Director for Economy and Innovation, Lisbon City Council, Stephen Hilton, Director of City Experimentation, Bristol Is Open, and Adam Pustelnik, Director, Investor Service and International Cooperation Bureau, City of Lodz Office, the answer lies in finding strategies to enable a better quality of life for its citizens. It doesn't happen from one day to another… the local municipalities need to attract and support investors, connect multiple stakeholders, link the universities, capture talent and researchers, create jobs and boost the potential of each city, according to its own characteristics. Dana Eleftheriadou, Policy Coordinator for Digital Transformation of the European Commission, agreed that the national governments and the European Union must support the projects but the transformation of the cities should to be led at local level.

Also within the European Week of Regions and Cities, another workshop on Revitalisation by Reconciliation, was chaired by the President of the ECO Section, Joost van Iersel, which challenged the speakers to answer the question as to how they envisage the city of the future.

The dominant urban planning models, originated at the time of industrial revolution, are now contested. The top-down responses to face new challenges are proving incapable of ensuring the social, cultural and democratic foundation for which European Cities are known. 

Jo Coenen, Curating Director of IBA Parkstad, and Pierre Mansat, Head of Paris Metropole, presented a newly shared public-private ambition to re-create areas and use these inspiring operational processes as a strategy in two different urban regions (eight municipalities in the province of Limburg, Netherlands – zone of the mine closures during the 70's, and the Grand Paris Metropole).

These projects are founded on horizontal links, revealing the potential of territories as action sites, for a more vibrant and inclusive Europe. It results in innovative public governance, engaging civil society and stakeholders which give a new economic and social élan and positive energy in depressed areas with an urgent need for intervention.

European and national policy makers should examine what can be learned from these two pioneering urban governance models as an opening to new urban politics. Cities are the future, but they have to have the capacity to become prosperity centres, with jobs for young people and a high quality of life. There is only one way to achieve that – and the way is by shared public-private ambition.